November 8, 2012

Battling PTSD

The VA has started a program for soldiers returning from war and dealing with the effects of combat.

Shelby: David Chapman loved the army.

David Chapman: All those camelbacks were mine.

Shelby: He still does. In fact, he says he wishes he could go back.

David: Kind of a scrapbook thing.

Shelby: But he can’t forget about his friend and fellow soldier.

David: There’s Jason right there, sticking his tongue out acting goofy. He was one of the best soldiers that I think I’ve ever met.

Shelby: David was there the day Jason Lucas died. A suicide bomber crashed into their convoy in Afghanistan in 2006. The memory has haunted him ever since.

David: When my nightmares first started it was like watching him die all over again. As time went on it got worse it got to where I could hear the noises, and I could smell the smells, every detail down to the bead of sweat running down my arm trickling through the sand that stuck to my arm. Every detail was there.

Shelby: After Jason’s death, David says he was so depressed that he tried to commit suicide. He was later discharged from the army and admitted to a mental hospital.

David: This one is for bedtime. For nightmares.

Shelby: But no doctors or medications seemed to help.

David: As far as I was concerned, my life was over. I felt like I failed as a leader, I couldn’t bring him home alive.

Shelby: Six years later, David is still suffering from nightmares, anxiety, and fear – all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

PTSD can occur when someone has survived a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a car crash, or in David’s case, war.

David: This is the man cave.

Shelby: Like thousands of others, David says he has mostly been dealing with his issues on his own.

David: I expose myself to things that remind me of combat and the traumatic events in an attempt to make my body, I wouldn’t say forget, but make the anxiety that’s associated with it as extinct as possible.

Shelby: Researchers estimate that more than 300,000 troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering with PTSD like David. And suicide is now the number one cause of death in the military. Not combat, suicide.

Richard Tedeschi: We’re overwhelmed in the veterans affairs systems and the military. The soldiers need this help.

Shelby: Experts say that one of the biggest problems is military culture.

David: It’s a display of weakness. You’re in a culture where the last thing you do is show weakness.

Shelby: About half of the soldiers who return from war with PTSD do not seek treatment, and many more drop out of therapy early according to recent research from the military. But despite the stigma, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, says it is doing more to help treat PTSD by offering new types of therapy, spending more on research, hiring thousands of mental health staff members and adding more centers that offer free and confidential counseling.

Richard: How often do you steal someone else’s joy?

Shelby: The VA is also focused on prevention. A new army program called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness trains soldiers to better handle psychological stress before they go into combat.

Richard: The Army has a longstanding tradition of getting people physically fit but not necessarily have we paid enough attention to psychological. So this is a prevention program.

Shelby: So far, the Army has spent more than $140 million on the program and new results out show it is working.

Jake Ascher: Your thoughts drive emotions, and you can’t necessarily jump to conclusions on these emotions. You have to step back, think about it, and actually then you’re able to proceed a lot more effectively.

Shelby: For David, traditional therapy has helped him too, and he is now studying psychology so that he can help other soldiers and veterans suffering from PTSD.

David: When you have those feelings and you don’t understand them, it makes you feel like you’re not human. You feel like you’re less of a person because you feel that way. But once you understand why you feel that way, and you understand the background behind it and that it’s normal for what you’ve been through, then it makes it a lot easier to deal with.

Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.


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